24 April 2019

Foundation Progress Tracker

One way to measure the progress of a large and complex construction program like the Peninsula Corridor Electrification Program is to count how many foundations have been completed. This is a revealing metric, since foundation construction is currently the top risk on the program due to surprises when digging holes along the right of way. It's also a metric that is readily measurable and reported monthly.

In round numbers, the electrification project encompasses ~2500 poles and ~3100 concrete foundations. The number of foundations is greater than the number of poles because there are foundations for guy wires and sometimes multiple foundations for portal poles.

The progress chart below will be updated monthly.

At the December 2018 meeting of the Caltrain board of directors, the program manager stated (starting at 01:03:00 in video) that he needed to maintain a pace of 156 pole foundations per month (six per night) to meet the schedule milestone of "electrification substantial completion," which was then set for June 2021. You can see how things went since then.


  1. What's the burn rate on OCS, and how does that match the latest reported cost?

    1. Burn rate on the entire project is lower than planned. See PDF page 12. Where they are right now spend-wise is where they were planned to be 16 months ago, so one way of squinting at the program status is that they are 16 months behind... and even more behind if they are over-spending on the tasks they are already doing.

      The latest monthly claims they're on schedule, but the OCS completion milestone has slipped by 3 months in the last 3 months (December 2018 report: 6/23/21, March 2019 report: 9/24/21)

      I'm thinking the likelihood of any electrified service in 2021 is roughly zero, 2022 getting iffy.

  2. What would be the way to prevent this problem - handing the project over to the contractor with less specific plans? eg: "Put a foundation somewhere in this 2m x 8m rectangle" or simpler still, just specify pole spacing requirements and let the contractor figure it out? One can imagine a construction team going out to actually dig a foundation without even knowing exactly where it will go ahead of time, or having an 'ideal spot' but being empowered to relocate on the fly within certain parameters if some unexpected utility turns out to be in the way. Not being in the construction industry I can't say for sure, but I bet this sort of thing was common for this kind of work "back in the day".

    The analogy I can relate to when I built a fence in my backyard, I knew I was shooting for 7'6" on-center post spacing but if I ran into a root while digging I would make it a little shorter or a little wider, up to 8'. I also didn't measure very exactly, because it's a fence, and who cares? I am not an expert, so maybe I am completely wrong, but building foundations to support poles for RR electrification seems like it has the potential to be pretty similar to this.

  3. The rate is low because the "team" doing "Segment 3" hasn't been mobilized or hasn't started yet.

    Better question is "why haven't they started yet".

    1. Pretty sure the answer is in the monthly... Segment 3 isn't scheduled to start for another few months.

    2. Segment 3 is probably the longest, but also seems to have the shortest time allocated to it. The graph above might be more accurate if broken down by segments, then for each segment, plot the completion/total as well as months.

      Even that assumes linear progress for each segment which might not be the case once teams get up to speed and complete a 100+ poles.

    3. The graph makes no assumptions other than the one stated: linear extrapolation from the officially reported foundation productivity of the last three months.

      Realistically, foundation production should follow a sigmoid profile, starting slowly with potholing, accelerating to a maximum rate, and then tapering off as the work wraps up and the hardest cases are dealt with. One would thus expect the extrapolated line to rapidly trend upwards, with the extrapolated completion date pulling well to the left of October 2021.

      Keep watching to see whether it does that, and when.

      It's likely that by now (with accumulated delays since December) the required production rate will have to hit 200 foundations/month in order to finish on time. That's FOUR times the current average.

  4. The LA Times has published a damning long article on the HSR project:


    How California’s troubled high-speed rail project was ‘captured’ by costly consultants

    ( Perhaps a sub title of "how not to build a project" should be added

    1. For once an objective article from Vartabedian.

    2. It seems like the contractors all knew to come in with low bids to ensure snagging a package. They all knew they could abuse the authority and find opportunities to sweeten the pot.

    3. A follow-on article that summarizes the realities that CAHSR is telling the Legislature:

      -- $20.4 billion complete cost of Bakersfield to Merced ($15 billion needed from now on).
      -- $63 million per year subsidy required to operate the Central Valley segment
      -- $4 billion from Feds is not coming
      -- getting rid of consultants will not be cheap. Example: CAHSR says it needs 10 more IT folks.
      -- a separate prediction that the Bay Area will never connect to the system.


    4. IIRC, the entire reason for the consultant-capture was that certain members of the Authority Board (I want to say they were Republicans or centrist Democrats) wanted to avoid having to fund pensions for Authority employees. The easiest way to avoid that was by using consultants instead of staffing up the agency properly.

  5. The required rate is now 200/month. Please adjust your graph.

    1. Please see above comment, 26 April 17:56. The graph shows an extrapolation of actual installation rates.

  6. Is LA Times disseminating false information again?

    "$63 million per year subsidy required to operate the Central Valley segment"

    The 63 million is based on the farebox-recovery ratio which includes high-speed rail, the Altamont Corridor Express and the San Joaquins services. Ie this is the subsidy for 3 systems.

    83 million without HSR.

    "$4 billion from Feds is not coming".

    CAHSR will not return the 2.5B in fed money.
    Also, it is against federal law to hold back the 1 billion...this will be in the courts for a long time. Dems may be in power before this is decided.

    "$20.4 billion complete cost of Bakersfield to Merced ($15 billion needed from now on)."

    Worst case scenario is recouping FY10 and C&T comes in on the low end. Which leaves 1 billion short.

    ARRA $2.49
    FY10 $0.93
    Prop 1A Planning $0.68
    Prop 1A $2.61
    Future Prop 1A $4.17
    Proposition 1A Bookends $1.10
    Cap-and-Trade Received December 2018 $2.42

    Subtotal $14.45

    Future Cap-and-Trade* $6.00 – 9.00

    Total $20.45 – 23.45

    1. oops, wrong spot. This was a reply to Reedman's post

  7. Update from April 2019 progress report: continued mediocre production rate. Totals are now provided for all segments, so at the current production rate foundations will be completed in March 2023, or 17 months behind schedule. Accounting for some acceleration as they improve their process, the project is probably about a year behind.

  8. 3131 (required) - 791 (completed to date) = 2340 (remaining).
    2340 (remaining) / (45/month) = 52 months remaining; or 4 years 4 months _at current rate_. From April, that's August 2023. Am I missing something?

    45 per month is 29% of the rate needed, from Dec 2018, to hit schedule . The monthly reports on OCS progress must be omitting rows where nothing has been completed -- that explains why the "required" total jumps from 1,225 in January, to 3,313 in April. The Feb report has an addition error; the 392 foundations in the newly-added rows for Segment 4 were not added to the total.

    Are they really saying that in February, they still didn't know how many masts (poles) were needed in Segment 4?

    Clem, I think a year behind is overly optimistic. Foundations completed per month is going down, as construction starts in new areas.

    1. I extrapolate based on the average rate for the last 3 months, as stated in the plot legend. I anticipate that production rate will increase, and the cumulative curve should ultimately assume an S-shape (sigmoid). The plot will reveal this, as the extrapolated line should pull to the left and eventually cross the goal to the left of the OCS completion milestone, currently 9/24/2021. This schedule milestone has slipped by 3 months in the last 4 months.

      The "required" totals in the latest monthly report now include the segments that have not yet begun foundation installation. I think 3131 now represents the overall total for the project. I had previously estimated 3700, a bit too high.

      The CBOSS fiber optic cable (poorly located and poorly documented) is getting in the way of hundreds of these foundations, which is one way CBOSS is the gift that keeps on giving.

  9. California High Speed Rail appears to be DEAD!

    The LA Times has just published:

    On California’s high-speed rail project, combatant Kings County is ready to settle


    Reading the story, they are buying diesels to run in the Central Valley, and thus, whether admitting it or not, the Authority is giving up on HSR.

    1. It sounds like Kings County was going to lose the case and wants to put a positive spin on it.

    2. Morris, learn to read for comprehension. The San Joaquin Joint Powers Board is buying diesels, not the CHSRA. Even Ralph Vartabedian notes the inconsistency between that; and CHSRA policy and Gov. Newsom's recent statements.

      The article also says the state will not settle with Kings County unless the county also drops out of the Prop 1A lawsuit; and the county has a verbal agreement to do that.

  10. I agree with Brown. Having looked at the recent Board meeting and also the Assembly Transportation oversight hearing, there is going to be a major effort to take money from the Central Valley and divert it to Southern California.

    Who in the world can believe that with a $60 billion short fall to build out Phase I, that this project has not miserably failed.

    The LA Times article points out that what is now on the horizon is nothing but a slow train and why should the State pour in billions more into the Central Valley and get so little in return. It makes no sense.

    The new agenda will be a war by regional interests to get as much of available funding diverted away from the Central Valley and spent where it will do much more good.

  11. Verboon threw in the towel at least as far back as February:
    "Verboon announced to his Kings Council of Governments colleagues that the county was close to settling their differences with the California High Speed Rail Authority"

    Now he is doing everything to get a piece of the pie:
    "if the philosophy was to confront and delay the project the new philosophy might be just the opposite – insure that “something happens on this corridor” that will benefit Kings County says Verboon."


    "..that this project has not miserably failed."
    I don't think it has failed as much as people have had unrealistic expectations. The business plans have all tapered down the expectations but the media keeps construing it into something it possibly could never be. The French took 50+ years to implement there system. Meanwhile SNCF is doing remarkably well outside of a few rural lines: https://www.railjournal.com/passenger/high-speed/sncf-reports-strong-high-speed-growth/

    And the new Siemen train sets he is mentioning, only 2 are for runs south of Merced, runs 8 and 9, which is set for at least 5 years before the valley is HSR ready.

    Apparently Verboon never bothered to read the May 1, 2019 CAHSR report before the LA Times interview.

  12. CAHSR spent $11 million (sofa-cushion change to them) to pay King County to pull out of the Tos lawsuit. They likely consider it money well-spent to cut down the background noise and continue spending billions. The bigger question (to me) is how the subsidies for operation are going to play out.

    1. yes, that's one i've been trying to figure out.

      ACE-SJ combined is currently subsidized at 84 million. An ACE-SJ-HSR is subsidized at 60 million according to May 1 HSR document. It assumes higher CV ridership and lower maintenance for the electric leg. Is authority trying to replace a non-subsidized HSR system in Prop1 with a lower subsidized combined system?

      Also, proof Verboon is a lose cannon trying to circumvent the authority. He is but quoting Jim Gonzale's plan from February:

  13. It's important to note that Caltrain it placing at least 15% too many poles in the ground, purely because Caltrain's self-serving rent-seeking know-nothing consultants pulled electrification "standards" out of their own rear ends, with absolutely zero attention to global norms or to costs.

    My go-to comparison is the German DBAG "Re200" catenary design. Not only are between-pole spans longer at every curve radius than the orgy of steel and concrete that is so profiting the consultants and contractor mafiosi who completely control Caltrain, but it's designed to be good for 200kmh out of the box. And multiple vendors can and do build to this design (same goes for other actual standards in actual use by actual know-something rail infrastructure outfits.)

    Compare some samples numbers:
    Straight track pole spacing: Re200 80m vs Caltrain for-profit made-up bullshit "standard" 70.1m (230 In-God-We-Trust All-American feet)
    Re200 spacing at 1200m radius 71.6m vs Caltrain 57m
    Re200 at 800m radius 62.5m vs Caltrain 46.6
    Re200 at 500m radius 52.4m vs Caltrain 36.6
    Re200 at 300m radius 42.5m vs Caltrain 27.4m
    etc etc

    Corridor-long this all adds up to around 150 completely unnecessary holes and poles. Meaning cost. Meaning time. Meaning more sweet sweet dollars.

    But, you know, Caltrian needs MORE MONEY and schedule slips on a "complex project" like this are "only to be expected."
    Tough tough stuff, this holes and poles in feet and inches business.

    1. The slightly tighter pole spacing is nothing compared to the heavy use of double track cantilevers and the ridiculous design safety factors, causing each foundation to be easily 300% larger than an equivalent European foundation. Compare to photo of recently constructed heavy-duty 25kV OCS on the French LGV Est, rated for 200 mph. Notice how they just cast a 20 cm pole straight into a 50 cm concrete foundation!

      Here we would say goodness, no, if a train derails that foundation design will slice the vehicle shells right open and you absolutely need a bolted interface to the foundation to function as a structural fuse. What that concept doesn't seem to account for is that a massive foundation (90 cm diameter and several meters deep), even after being sheared of its pole, will act as an immovable obstacle and tear apart the sturdiest of vehicle shells. Especially lightweight aluminum vehicle shells, if you know what I mean...

      Sweet sweet dollars indeed.

    2. Breaking News: Balfour Beatty will NOT be invited to bid for the Gilroy electrification.

    3. One struggles to imagine how or why electrification would ever be extended past Blossom Hill, now that Pacheco HSR has been put on ice for the foreseeable future.

  14. Just published on the HSR website is a 22 page powerpoint presentation for the upcoming June 18th HSR Board meeting



    1. Slide 15 states that an elevated station over Stover St. allows a south approach in the existing right of way, but slide 20 states that the existing right of way can only be used if the station is at grade. Which is it? Is there a rational explanation for this discrepancy, or is it incompetence as usual for the HSR consultants?

  15. Omneos are next: https://www.progressiverailroading.com/mechanical/news/Bombardier-to-move-BART-rail-car-assembly-to-California--57827